Introduction

Language Advising was offered to students taking an intensive seven-week exam preparation course. Students were introduced to some aspects of independent learning during the course (self-assessment, planning & monitoring, evaluating & reflecting on learning) and then asked if they would like to attend individual advising sessions.

What is language advising?

Esch (1996) describes advising as a ‘system of interventions which aims at supporting students methodology of language learning by means of ‘conversations’, i.e. by using language in the framework of social interaction to help students reflect on their learning experience, identify inconsistencies and steer their own path’ (p.42). Language advising thus synthesizes and contextualizes students’ language learning experiences within in a framework of their abilities, goals and future lives.

During these conversations, or language advising sessions, Gremmo & Riley (1995, p.159) believe that the advisor’s role is to both help learners develop competence in learning and to ‘create material conditions favourable to language learning,’ such as providing resources, spaces for independent learning and systems to support the process.

The discourse of the advising conversation, both the way the conversation is framed and the communication strategies used to negotiate meaning (reiterating, eliciting, paraphrasing, summarizing, empathizing), is considered fundamentally different from the discourse of classroom interaction (Kelly, 1996; Mozzon-McPherson, 2001, 2007; Riley, 1997). The language of the advising conversation is in itself a tool to support the development of learner autonomy. For advising conversations to succeed, both advisor and advisee need to reappraise their identities as teacher and student and collaborate to create a new learning relationship based on mutual trust, support and equality. Ciekanski (2007) sees the advising relationship as both professional and interpersonal concerning ‘learning in its cognitive and subjective, as well as personal dimensions’ (p.125).

How was the strategy implemented?

Each student attended three to four 30-minute individual consultations over the course of 4 months. The meetings were held in the self-access centre. At the end of the term, the group met to share their experiences, successes and challenges and to evaluate the process.

In the first couple of individual advising sessions, the conversation centred on negotiating the purpose of the meeting and the roles of the advisor and advisee. The students were encouraged to talk about their approaches to independent language learning and what they perceived to be their needs, both short- and long-term. The advisor’s role in this process was to listen to what the student was saying both verbally and non-verbally, probe, question, encourage and suggest. The students were then encouraged to set themselves some goals, think about how they could achieve those goals (time, resources, motivation) and set up a simple learner record. The advisor’s role here was to help the student narrow the scope of their goals, if necessary, so that they became a series of doable steps. The students could further hone their plan if they wished.

The learner record used was based around the experiential learning cycle developed by Kolb (1984). The students worked through a process of planning, doing, reflecting on and evaluating the learning before deciding on a next step. Both the student and the advisor could access and update / comment on the record online.

In subsequent meetings, the advisor and student reviewed the learner log and picked-up the conversation. The advisor’s role was to encourage reflection, make suggestions, empathize, share experience, deal with any questions and explore possible resources. At times, the discussion would touch on relevant theories to help the student contextualize the process or on specific skills and strategies in support of independent learning. The students were encouraged to set the agenda and to share the lead in the conversations, particularly once they felt comfortable with the relationship.

A group meeting was held before the end of term in which the group discussed their goals, the process of monitoring and evaluating learning, the theory underpinning the process and strategies adopted.

References

Ciekanski, M (2007). Fostering learner autonomy: power and reciprocity in the relationship between language learner and language learning advisor. Cambridge Journal of Education, 37 (1), 111-127.

Esch E . (1996). Promoting learner autonomy: criteria for the selection of appropriate methods. In R. Pemberton , E. S. L. Li, W. W. F. Or, & H. D. Pierson (Eds.), Taking control: Autonomy in language learning, pp. 35-48. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Gremmo, M.J. & Riley, P (1995). Autonomy, self-direction and self-access in language teaching and learning: the history of an idea. System, 23 (2), 151-164.

Kelly, R. (1996). Language counselling for learner autonomy: the skilled helper in self-access language learning. In R. Pemberton, E. S. L. Li, W. W. F. Or, & H. D. Pierson (Eds). Taking control: Autonomy in language learning, pp.93-113. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning experience as a source of learning and development. New Jersey : Prentice Hall.

Mozzon-McPherson, M (2001). Language advising: towards a new discursive world. In M. Mozzon-McPherson & R. Vismans (Eds.), Beyond language teaching towards language advising. London: CILT.

Mozzon-McPherson, M (2007). Supporting independent learning environments: an analysis of structures and roles of language learning advisers. System, 35, 66-92.

Riley, P. (1997). ‘The guru and the conjurer: aspects of counselling for self-access’. In P. Benson & P. Voller (Eds.), Autonomy and independence in language learning, pp. 114-131. London: Longman.

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